Why Michael Crabtree is overpaid. Why he won't be extended in 2015

Is Crabtree Going to Get an Extension
from the 49ers?

Whether or not Michael Crabtree is going to get an extension from the San Francisco 49ers has been a big topic around here for quite a while. Or rather, when he gets it, and how much he is going to get. It seems that most here believe he is going to get a contract extension and earn in the range of $10M a year.

But I don't think he is, and below I explain why in detail. In short he...

  • He isn't great, he is just good. Not even very good, just good.
  • He has ranked in the top 20 for receiving yards only one season, 14th, in 2012.
  • He wants too much money based on an egotistical view of his abilities, and unfortunately Harbaugh has done nothing to cool his inflated sense of self-worth.
  • The 49ers have already replaced him. The roster is stacked at WR and there is no room for an unproductive, expensive prima donna.

Wide Receivers on the Roster & Whether
They Make the Team in 2014

The current WR corp for the San Francisco 49ers consists of the following, listed in alphabetical order:

Name Age Height Weight Years in League

Jon Baldwin 24 6-4 230 4
Anquan Boldin 33 6-1 220 12
Brandon Carswell 25 6-1 201 1
Michael Crabtree 26 6-1 214 6
Bruce Ellington 22 5-9 197 R
Chuck Jacobs 24 6-0 178 1
Steve Johnson 28 6-2 207 7
Brandon Lloyd 33 6-0 200 11
Kassim Osgood 34 6-5 220 12
Quinton Patton 23 6-0 204 2
David Reed 27 6-0 190 5
Devon Wylie 25 5-9 187 3

Devon Wylie: Cut. Devon Wylie was drafted in 2012 by the Chiefs at the beginning of the third round. Cut by them and then the Titans he has played a few games, but at 5' 9" and in his third year it is make or break time. Given the depth on the team and the number of younger, not yet bust, developmental players SF has at the position he is an outside bet for the practice squad.

David Reed: Cut. His fifth season in and I have never heard of him, a practice squad regular for the team who drafted him, the Colts, and us. Drafted in the 5th round of 2010, overall 156th by Baltimore, he was rated number 188 of the players eligible for the draft that year. If he was going to catch fire and catch balls in the NFL he would have done so by now. His official combine 40 time was 4.56 and he has only gotten slower in the last five years.

Quinton Patton: Makes team. A year behind Devon Wylie, but streets ahead in developing his potential, Patton has a good shot at making the team as the fifth/sixth receiver, particularly if he develops ST utility above where he is now. The worst thing I could find about Patton is that "ESPN's Bill Williamson would be "shocked" if second-year WR Quinton Patton is not on the 49ers' final roster."

Kassim Osgood: Likely cut, could be kept as ST player. I have seen others argue that Baalke and Co. will keep Kassim Osgood for his ST value, I think that is probable if the roster, which is packed, allows it. But I don't think it will unless injuries make room for him and the value he brings to special teams. The team has a history, admittedly with some unfortunate consequences, of dumping outstanding ST players. ST does not count when picking draftees, and it won't count when making roster decisions regarding WR and Kassim. At 34 years old and with 12 seasons in the NFL, Kassim is End-of-Life on the shelf of NFL players. He likely gets cut. He likely signs elsewhere, but barring a rash of injuries making room on the active roster, or someone above him on the roster, many above him on the roster lets make that, turning in a really bad camp or off-field issues, he goes.

Brandon Lloyd: Makes team. A keeper who gets kept, and although Harbaugh talking him up could be the coach making it easier on everyone to cut him, I think Harbaugh means it. He may have signed so he could end his career here, but I don't think he would bother coming out of a happy retirement just for sentimental reasons when the option of sign and retire is there anyway. There are many reasons he should make the roster, first is his obvious ability, second is his low price. Kaepernick has a high opinion, as do the defensive backs on the 49ers, of Lloyd's abilities, and the last year did not add any miles to his NFL age. At 33 he is one season removed from playing in the AFC title game and making some spectacular catches for Tom Brady. Drafted by San Francisco in the dark years of 2003, I remember him well. An infuriating combination of amazing, AMAZING, talent combined with a common skill on the team at the time. The ability to piss-off the puritanical jesus-freak Mike Nolan, what a jackass he was. I also had the sense that back then he did not combine a great work ethic with those undeniable skills, making him yet more maddening. Dark days. However it is clear he is not hindered by either a poor work ethic, nor by the prima donna mentality that seems so common in younger WRs. A mentality that was also attached to Mr. Lloyd when he first played for the 49ers. The same age as Anqon Boldin, with similar bona fides, he makes the team. Below I will make statistical comparisons that demonstrate why Brandon Lloyd is in the same area as Boldin and Johnson in terms of recent production as a WR, and why Crabtree is not and will be allowed to walk after this season.

Steve Johnson: Makes team. Taking the last three years of his output at Buffalo, Steve Johnson is the statistical brother of Anquan Boldin, and of Brandon Lloyd. These three are as good or better than Crabtree, and all but Johnson are significantly cheaper, with Johnson still cheaper, just not significantly so. A one-thousand-plus yards receiver in 3 of the last 4 seasons, missing out last season due to injury and an understandable drop-off in morale and decline in his mentality given the situation with the Bills. Those 1K+ yard seasons remember came on a team where he was most of the time the "Man" and therefore the target of any special efforts on defence to shut down the Bills aerial attack. Over his prima donna phase unlike Crabtree, and representing relative good value for money in comparison to Crabtree, he sticks around at least through the end of his current contract. At 28 he has at least five good years in him barring injuries and assuming he takes care of himself. Has a good track record with injuries until last year. If he does well and his contract demands are modest he gets resigned.

Chuck Jacobs: Practice Squad. Rated far lower in the draft last year than Devon Wylie was when drafted, at 74 our of 342 WRs, and with a similar 40 time of 4.55, Chuck Jacobs will have a similar career to others like him, unless he makes himself into a standout on special teams, a la Kassim Osgood. That or he finds the right combation of PEDs and masking agents, and hard work and coaching, to become the receiver worthy of a roster spot. Otherwise he is a practice squad player until eligibility ends, either this year or next.

Bruce Ellington: Makes team. The developmental guy on the active roster with Quinton Patton. Both have up to three years on the team to develop and to prove out, unless they are spectacularly bad or unreceptive to coaching. In case of the latter we will exchange him for another malcontent from the Chiefs, who will get cut shortly thereafter.

Michael Crabtree: Makes team. Obvious ability although not great, Crabtree was a prima donna in college and unfortunately for him Harbaugh's weakness in man management is to coddle rather than to shape. So Crabtree continues to be a prima donna and as a result his inflated sense of self-worth means his contract demands are laughable, and he will be allowed to walk next season. The roster currently has three Crabtree like receivers, all of whom are of comparable ability and accomplishment, or better. All are cheaper, two by a substantial margin. One criminally so, as revealed below.

Anquan Boldin: Makes team. At 33 Boldin is in the twiight of his career, except someone turned on some lights. Boldin is rare in that his production has improved each season for the last three years, when most at his position are in decline. Even so that is unlikely to result in much beyond his current contract unless the primary developmental guys, Patton and Ellington plus whomever comes next year, go up in flames for some reason. Young and cheap is the mantra around the NFL after the last CBA, and Boldin is on the wrong side of one of those metrics, nor is he likely to accept the kind of deal he is playing under for the 49ers currently given his production and necessary belief for someone in his position that he will still be able to play at his current level. Which is unlikely for more than a year more even given his remarkable last three years at keeping the depredations of time at bay. Likely gone at end of contract, may stick for a one year extension if the money is good enough.

Jon Baldwin: Bubble along with Kassim Osgood. With 4 years in the league Baldwin has had enough promise, and shown enough progress or value on ST, to stick around this long. But at 24 he is getting long in the tooth. He either shows something in camp that makes him impossible to let go, transitions to ST Ace like Osgood and has a career very similar to him, or it is time to take that Real Estate licence course and slide back into anonymity with the rest of us. Failing that I have read speculation he could be converted to tight end, but this late in proceedings. Likely out of the NFL after bouncing around for the coming seasons on the margins with a few teams. It is make or break year for Mr. Baldwin.

I have these six at WR at the start of the 2014 season, barring injuries, or Acts of God, and in this order on the roster:

Crabtree, Boldin, Johnson, Lloyd, Patton, Ellington with Baldwin/Osgood a possibility to make the team on ST, and listed as a WR in name only.

Why Crabtree is Not Worth the Money He Gets
Now & Will Walk in 2015

Below I give some simple statistical comparisons to show each receiver's statistics in comparison to the WR corps currently on the roster. I am leaving off the developmental guys, draftees and special team players since they do not really figure in whether Crabtree is going to stick around. They are not his peers.

Stats are for last three active seasons to allow meaningful comparisons with Brandon Lloyd, but except in his case the last 3 years means 2011-2013 seasons. Financials are from

Average Yards Gained (regular season) last 3 seaons:

Crabtree: 754
Johnson: 882
Boldin: 996
Lloyd: 1,108

But Crabtree was injured last year, and it hit his production. So lets compare the last 3 seasons each player got 14 or more games in, for regular season only. Crabtree missed a game in 2011 and Boldin one in 2012 and two in 2011. So Boldin suffers most here, having lost one more game than Lloyd and Crabtree in that 3 year span. For Johnson I took his 3 one thousand yard seasons, 2010-2012, for Lloyd 2010-2012 before he sat out 2013, Crabtree I dropped last year as he missed half the year, Boldin the last 3 years. Note that only Boldin comes without some issue affecting performance substantially in a season during the last 3 years.

Average annual yards for each for the most recent
3 seasons without substantial lost playing time:

Crabtree: 907
Johnson: 1041
Boldin: 882
Lloyd: 1108

I call that a draw given the circumstances for Boldin & Crabtree, and Lloyd & Johnson seem about matched, too. Four great receivers on one team, got to like that.

But what about their value? How expensive those yards will be if projected onto this season? This surely gives a guide to the relative value of each, and when combined with factors like age, injury history and projection, and crucially can the 49ers replace them, will determine who stays and who goes. That is the question this post wants to answer after all.

To get part of the answer, their relative cost, I took their 2014 Cap cost and divided it by the average of their production for the last 3 seasons, to give the project cost of each yard for each receiver. Of course it is very unlikely we would see four 1000 yard receivers on this or any team, but it gives a good guide to how much they cost in relative terms of their production.

Cost per yard of projected 2014 production:

Crabtree: $7345.41
Johnson: $5932.39
Boldin: $3133.89 - Criminally underpaid
Lloyd: $1332.30 - A prove it year

Puts walking to the grocery store in a different light, doesn't it?

How much does each receiver expect to get paid as a percentage of the total cost of WRs to the 49ers in 2014? Glad you asked.

Percentage WR Budget 2014 devoted to each receiver:

Crabtree: 37.41%
Johnson: 30.22%
Boldin: 15.96%
Lloyd: 6.79%
Ellington: 3.64%
Patton: 5.99%
Total: 100%

So long as Lloyd is capable and wants to play, at that cost he is going to.

But Crabtree does not appear content with consuming almost 4/10s of the total WR budget on the 49ers, he is said to want more. In the region of $10M annually. I don't blame him, if I could, I would.

He is currently getting just over half that, and even if the cap increases the proportion devoted next year of the total is unlikely to change much. Given that, and that the impact of an increase in the salary cap will not be significant enough to affect estimates like these in terms of conclusions drawn, and plugging in a number around $10M to the above for Crabtree, and we see his cost and how much of the budget he accounts for go up substantially.

Based on a $10M annual salary for Crabtree:

Crabtree: 51.90%
Johnson: 23.22%
Boldin: 12.27%
Lloyd: 5.22%
Ellington: 2.80%
Patton: 4.60%

No team is going to devote that proportion of their budget to even an exceptional player, never mind a merely good one. Not even the best on the team. Crabtree is clearly not even that. To stick around he would have to represent good value, and he cannot claim that, either.

Now before anyone with a puritanical streak like Mike Nolan's pipes up about the figures for next year, and rightfully points out I that have not attempted to adjust pay for the other receivers like Lloyd who if he sticks around is going to want more, I know that.

This is a "what if?". It is a projection. It doesn't need to be precise to have value. In fact it cannot be precise, nor will it's utility be improved by being so. So why bother?

Even if that figure for Crabtree moved by 5 points, in either direction, would it make any difference to how you felt about it?

Unless he was Jerry Rice material of course. Which raises an interesting point.

How much did Rice account for at his peak of the then 49ers WR budget, or salary costs?

Glad you asked, here is the answer. Rice accounted for the following in 2000 as a percentage of the 49ers WR corps salary budget. Bear in mind information that far back on salary is hard to find, this is what I have.

Individual Amounts for 49ers WR Cap in year 2000:

Jerry Rice: 4,530,400
Terrell Owens: 1,825,400 No wonder he was grumpy!
JJ Stokes: 1,176,200
Tai Streets: 301,600

As percentage of total:
Rice: 58%
Owens: 23%
Stokes: 15%
Streets: 4%

His proportion should probably be less given there had to be other bit players on the squad back then at receiver of whom I can find no trace. Even so, and even for him, Rice was clearly overpaid that year, coming top for cap hit in 2000 amongst wide receivers league wide. But then he is the greatest of all time, something else Crabtree is not close to being able to claim. His contract was clearly distorted by his prior surreal production. There is no such excuse for paying Crabtree a similar proportion of the WR budget.

Crabtree seems to expect to receive about 50% of the total WR budget in SF in 2015 based on media reports, or that is the general expectation. At the end of the peak of his career Jerry Rice received about 58% of the budget, when we had a fantastic receiver, Owens, on the roster also who was massively underpaid. Rice was clearly a first ballot hall of famer in 2000, and set league records every game he played.

Anyone think Crabtree is about as valuable to the 49ers as than Jerry Rice was at the end of the 90s?

I didn't think so, and I doubt anyone at the 49ers, except possibly Crabtree, do either.

How does Crabtree compare to WRs around the NFL?

Despite having, possibly, the best hands of any receiver since the dawn of time, Crabtree has ranked as follows during his career in the NFL amongst all receivers ranked by receiving yards.

2012 - 14th, 2011 - 33rd, 2010 - 43rd, 2009 - 58th.

Before you protest about the situation or he caught from Alex Smith, who I thought got a hard time unfairly consider Josh Gordon. A great receiver gets the numbers catching from anyone. At least he improves every year, but better or equivalent receivers can be had, have been had and are on the roster, for a lot less than he gets. And a substantial amount less than he is said to project. He walks in 2015, and hopefully by then Harbaugh will have learned how to develop receivers, and Baalke to draft them. If not lets hope the next Johnson, Boldin or Lloyd has come along. They seem to with regularity.

Goodbye Michael, thanks for some good years, and good luck with your future. I hope you get all that money, just not from the 49ers.

Note:I obtained my statistics and information from the following sources:
Pro Football Focus
NFL Draft Scout
SBNation Post

I also got salary cap information from:
Playerfilter which was by far the best resource for historical player salary information I could find that I did not have to pay for.

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of Niners Nation's writers or editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of Niners Nation's writers or editors.